Cleaning the Colosseum with toothbrushes

18th of June 2014
Cleaning the Colosseum with toothbrushes

Archaeologists currently embarking on the mammoth task of cleaning the Colosseum, the world's most recognised Roman monument, have found a secret weapon - the humble toothbrush.

It's toothbrushes that are proving to be the ideal tool for scrubbing away the centuries of grime that coat the exterior of the giant amphitheatre.

"This is the first time in the 2,000 year history of the Colosseum that it's been cleaned," said Cinzia Conti, an archaeologist and the technical director of the project.

The technicians, engineers, and archaeologists who make up the restoration team are not relying solely on toothbrushes, of course. But their other tools are equally basic. "It's really a very simple system that we are using, and it is economical," continued Conti.

Larger scrubbing brushes are also being used to remove the caked-on dirt from the huge blocks of travertine marble that were used to build the monument nearly 2,000 years ago. And the thick black calcium deposits that encrust much of the amphitheatre are first softened up with water, which is sprayed in a fine mist through nozzles attached to yellow pipes. The water is unheated and contains no detergents.

"It's an environmentally friendly way of cleaning. The only thing that flows away is dirty water but there are no chemicals in it," said Conti. "Under the layers of dirt, chemical reactions can take place - chalky deposits form, as well as algae. That eats away at the stone. It's like a cancer and we need to cure it."

For the most stubborn bits of calcium and entrenched grime, the technicians use delicate drills which scour away at the travertine marble inch by grimy inch, returning it to its original colour - not blinding white but a soft, creamy ivory.

The project, which is expected to be completed in October 2016, is costing 25 million euros and has been sponsored by Tod's, an Italian shoe and luxury goods company.

"The Colosseum is like an old person with lines and wrinkles. We don't want to do a facelift, just a cleaning," concluded Rossella Rea, the director of the Colosseum. "It's important to retain the marks of the past - they are part of its history."


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited